Month: September 2015

#GETYOURFACTSRIGHT- WALKING THE TALK ON A ROOF

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The roof repair works at no.58 Rope Walk or Jalan Pintal Tali in Penang is in plain sight for all to see. And I am rather proud of the end result because of how it will contribute to the critical discussion on appropriate conservation approaches, choices and forms of interpretation being offered to shophouse owners in Penang.

When I decided to repair the roof of my grandfather’s shophouse, I applied the principles of replacing like for like in respect of the heritage fabric and of maintaining the layers of history as found. What you see today is exactly the way it was when the Control of Rent Act was promulgated after World War II. There have been no material changes since then as the implementation of rent control literally discouraged all owners of tenanted buildings from spending money on maintaining their properties.

The contractor who installed the roof chose to create two cemented strips as permanent hard bases in the direction of the roof slope. A worker needing to replace a broken tile or adjust a displaced tile could lay a timber plank transversely across the roof on top of the cement strips and use it as a working platform without endangering the tiles. For all I know, it could have been my grandfather’s suggestion for he was an innovative and yet practical man who had come to Malaya from China as a young boy and who eventually developed the town of Lunas in Kedah.

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And I also recall very vividly, when I was growing up, witnessing my father’s contractors securing the end tiles at the fascia of shophouses with cement, as was the case with many shophouses in town. Lime was otherwise freely used in other works like plastering of walls and mortar for brickwork.

The simple exercise of repairing a roof has thrown up several positives. One, it has allowed me to step back in time to “converse” with my grandfather and to personalize the architectural and social history of the place. And for me this is one of the most meaningful reasons for conservation because there is a story to tell, of making the past come alive in the present.

Two, it invites us to question whether our city fathers should continue to promote the purist, prescriptive, Eurocentric conservation approach or whether we should be leaning more towards what is being offered by the Hoi An Protocols 2005, a UNESCO document which I contributed to. The Protocols contain the following points:-

  1. In Asia, the structuralist analytical approach towards assessing significance and maintaining authenticity that is characteristic of Western conservation practice needs to be nuanced by the metaphysical concepts which prefigure the construction of space throughout the Asia region. It should also be tempered by the region’s time-honoured traditions of practice.
  2. Conservation practitioners should not over-emphasize the authenticity of the materials or physical substance of a resource to the extent that they overlook other equally or even more important dimensions of authenticity.

In terms of authenticity, the Nara Document on Authenticity 1994, Clause 11, states:-

All judgements about values attributed to cultural properties as well as the credibility of related information sources may differ from culture to culture, and even within the same culture. It is thus not possible to base judgements of values and authenticity within fixed criteria. On the contrary, the respect due to all cultures requires that heritage properties must be considered and judged within the cultural contexts to which they belong.

As a corollary to the ideals and principles stated in the Document, Herb Stovel (deceased), one of its authors, suggested that respect for cultural and heritage diversity requires conscious efforts to avoid imposing mechanistic formulae or standardized procedures in attempting to define or determine the authenticity of particular monuments and sites.

Last but not least, I am reminded of earlier efforts by Badan Warisan to formulate conservation principles that reflect Malaysian values based on the premises mentioned in the preceding paragraphs. It appears timely for us to revisit the material in our archives and to embark on a project to deliver what we once called the Stonor Principles, named after the location of our present heritage centre. China has its China Principles. Australia created the Burra Charter. The conservation of Malaysian heritage should be guided by local observations, experiences, traditions and wisdom.

Laurence Loh, Badan Warisan Malaysia


Google, Wikipedia, Yahoo Answers. I love them, such great tools. It’s become so easy to become an authority on any subject nowadays; anyone can be an expert on anything. With Melaka and George Town’s inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List, it’s like, suddenly, everyone is a conservation architect/expert. I have found, in my limited experience of being involved in a handful of international award winning restoration projects, that when the project team endeavours to consider a range of conservation approaches which are based not only on the multitude of documents outlining principles and standards which we should aspire towards, but also on collective experiences and practices, that the outcome is “right” and stands up to the test of time.

Let’s consider the debate of lime vs cement. Experts will loudly chant the mantra “lime good, cement bad”. Nothing wrong with that in many instances, but then, not always right. Add in another mantra – “replace like for like”. Then what happens when the heritage fabric is not  lime? Do we replace with lime and then we can easily put a tick against the “right” box? Or should we instead acknowledge that conservation is possibly more complex and there are probably several other issues which affect the authenticity of the place? I will desist from going on….Just to say thought that I liken this to walking a tightrope between what is the more accepted standard – a somewhat prescriptive “Western” conservation approach – and our (Asia’s) longer traditions of cultural practice and context.

So, next time, before jumping on whichever band wagon catches your fancy, guns blazing, shooting off your “expert” opinion, you may want to #getyourfactsright. It could save you a little embarrassment. 

Elizabeth Cardosa, Badan Warisan Malaysia

THIS KUL CITY: A CAPITAL IDEA! NAMING KUALA LUMPUR

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tkc capital instaKuala Lumpur’s history is evident in its street names, both past and present. Roads such as Ampang Street, Batu Road, Petaling Street, and Pudoh Road were named after the tin mining villages that these roads led to while names such as Abraham, Foss, Horley, Marsh, Peach, and Shaw pay tribute to educators whose legacies stand till today.

Join independent researchers, Mariana Isa and Maganjeet Kaur, and discover the stories behind the early streets in Kuala Lumpur, from 1889 until 1921. Their upcoming book, Kuala Lumpur Street Names is an enclclopedic A-to-Z which explores the stories behind more than 1,500 street names, and provides a fascinating new perspective on KL’s evolution over the years.

About the Speakers:

Founders of Heritage Output Lab, Mariana Isa and Maganjeet Kaur are independent researchers of Malaysian and Southeast Asian history. As heritage enthusiasts, they are actively involved
in organising activities and projects to promote local history and heritage in Kuala Lumpur. Through Heritage Output Lab, they provide research-based services to organisations and individuals requiring further background for print, audio and film projects. Researching Kuala Lumpur’s street names is a personal interest over the past three years. Mariana received her Bachelor’s degree in Architecture from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia and an MSc. in Conservation of Historic Buildings from University of Bath. Maganjeet holds a Bachelor of Applied Science degree from Universiti Sains Malaysia and an MSc. in Information Technology from RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology).

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21 YEARS ON: REMEMBERING MUBIN SHEPPARD with DR. SR. ZURAINI MD ALI

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Tan Sri Dato’ (Dr) Haji Mubin Sheppard is a name synonymous with the conservation and preservation of historical buildings in Malaysia. Born in Ireland in 1905, he arrived in Malaya in 1928 to serve for the Malayan Civil Service (MCS) until 1963. Tan Sri Mubin’s love for history and Malayan heritage is evident from his numerous publications, his involvement as Editor and President of MBRAS, Museum Director as well as the founding of the Malayan Historical Society in 1953. He was instrumental in the founding of Badan Warisan Malaysia in 1982 and championed the conservation and preservation of Malaysia’s built heritage.

The Mubin Sheppard Memorial Prize was established by Badan Warisan Malaysia  to raise awareness among younger members of society, about the built heritage of Malaysia. 21 yers after his passing, Dr. Sr. Zuraini Ali celebrates his life and work and will share her insights on the tireless efforts and significant contributions of Tan Sri Mubin from the 1950s until his death on 11 Sept 1994.

About the Speaker:

Dr. Sr. Zuraini Md Ali is a professional in architecture and heritage conservation in Malaysia. Her PhD entitled ‘British Colonial and Post-Colonial attitudes to Architecture and Heritage Conservation in Malaysia’ references many works of Tan Sri Dato’ (Dr) Haji Mubin Sheppard. She begin her professional career in Built Environment as an Assistant Architect and in the 1990s taught at Federal Institute of Technology, Kuala Lumpur and MARA Institute of Technology. Dr. Sr. Zuraini was among the pioneering staff who established the Department of Building Surveying, Faculty of Architecture, Planning & Surveying in UiTM and currently lectures at Universiti Malaya’s Department of Building Surveying, Faculty of Built Environment. As conservationist, Dr. Zuraini has worked on projects including the restoration of Dewan Tunku Canselor, University Malaya (2002-2004) and restoration of Taman Sejarah Kusta Negara (Phase 1) Sg Buloh (2012-2014). She has received several recognition and awards in her research and consultancy works including Honorable Mention in National Heritage Awards 2004: Conservation with Adaptive Re-Use of Bargas Zakariah, Badan Warisan Malaysia in 2005.

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